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Glacier Park Boat Tours: An expert’s advice and helpful tips

By Linnea, Nov. 2021

You’re planning your big trip to Glacier National Park and you’ve heard about the historic boat tours available in the park. They all offer a uniquely beautiful perspective, which means it can be overwhelming to select a boat tour (or tours) to add to your itinerary.

Luckily, as a seasonal park employee and former boat captain, I am here to help!

Glacier Park Boat Company is the only company authorized to offer boat tours in Glacier. Boat tour options include tours on St. Mary Lake at Rising Sun, Lake McDonald, Two Medicine Lake, and Swiftcurrent and Josephine Lakes in Many Glacier. The cost ranges from approximately $20 to $40 for adults and $10 to $20 for children. Some of these even include guided hikes! These tours operate seasonally, from June-September. All of the tours are amazing, so it is impossible to make the wrong choice.

Each of these boat tour options is different, so keep reading for more details! In this article I’ll cover:

  • Lake McDonald Boat Tour
  • St. Mary Lake Boat Tour
  • Two Medicine Lake Boat Tour
  • Many Glacier Boat Tour

About the Boat Tours

Glacier Park Boat Company is a family-owned business that has been operating in Glacier National Park since 1938. The tour boats were all built between the years 1927 and 1970, and each one has a unique character and charm.

All boat tours include informative commentary from a Boat Company guide, and you can expect to be entertained as you learn about history, geology, glaciers, plants, and animals. Each location varies slightly in the tours that they offer and the experience you will have, so continue reading to learn more about what each location has in store for you.

Tour LocationTour TimesTime RequiredOptional Guided Hike?PriceReservation Needed?
Lake McDonald11:00, 1:30, 3:00, 5:30, 7:001 hourNo$22 adult, $11 childSuggested
St. Mary10:00, 12:00, 2:00, 4:00, 6:301.5-3 hours*Some tours*$22-30 adult, $11-16 childProbably not
Two Medicine8:00, 9:00, 10:00, 11:00, 1:00, 3:00, 5:0045 minutes-3 hours*Some tours*$16.50 adult, $8.25 childSuggested
Many Glacier8:30, 9:00, 11:00, 1:00, 2:00, 3:00, 4:301.5-4 hours*Some tours*$33.25 adult, $16.75 childYES, definitely
*See individual tables below for more detailed information

Lake McDonald Boat Tour (West side of the park)

The boat tour on Lake McDonald leaves from the boat dock below Lake McDonald Lodge. This is located 10 miles from the West Entrance of Glacier.

The Lake McDonald boat tour is a one-hour cruise that includes informative and entertaining commentary by your boat captain along with the stunning views.

The boat tours at Lake McDonald depart at 11:00am, 1:30pm, 3:00pm, 5:30pm, and 7:00pm.

Tour TimeTime RequiredOptional Guided Hike?Price
11:00, 1:30, 3:00, 5:30, 7:001 hourNo$22 adult $11 child
            Lake McDonald tour options. Prices are approximate and subject to change

This is my least favorite option as I find it to be the least scenic of the tours. However, if you are not traveling to the East side of the park or you are not interested in hiking, this is still a lovely way to spend an hour.

To book a tour, call (406) 257-2426 or visit reserve.glacierparkboats.com. It is highly recommended that you reserve your tour well in advance, but not required.

St. Mary Lake Boat Tour (East side of the park)

The boat tour on St. Mary Lake leaves from Rising Sun, a stop along the Going to the Sun Road that is 6 miles west of the St. Mary entrance gate.

The St. Mary Lake boat tour offers scenic rides, most of which give you the opportunity to leave the boat and take a 15-minute hike to beautiful Baring Falls and then return to the dock.

I cannot recommend this boat tour highly enough! The scenery simply cannot be beaten, and the experience of being on a wooden tour boat built in 1927 as it cruises through waves is quite unforgettable.

Watch this short video to get a great feel for what a boat ride is like!

The boat tours on St. Mary Lake depart at 10:00am, 12:00pm, 2:00pm, and 4:00pm. Each of these rides will take 1.5 hours round trip.

The 6:30pm boat tour is only one hour and does not give you time to leave the boat and hike to Baring Falls.

From the 10:00 and 2:00 boat tours, you may take an optional, free guided hike to St. Mary Falls with a Boat Company naturalist. The total boat trip and hike time requires 3 hours and 30 minutes.

Tour TimeTime RequiredOptional Guided Hike?Price
12:00, 4:001.5 hoursNo$33.50 adult $16.75 child
10:00, 2:003.5 hoursYes$33.50 adult $16.75 child
6:301 hourNo$22 adult $11 child
St. Mary tour options. Prices are approximate and subject to change

To book a tour, call (406) 257-2426 or visit reserve.glacierparkboats.com. It is best to do this in advance, but not required as this is one of the least busy of all the boat tour locations.

Two Medicine Boat Tour (East side of the park)

The boat tours on Two Medicine Lake depart at 8:00am, 9:00am, 10:00am, 11:00am, 1:00pm, 3:00pm, and 5:00pm. Each tour requires 45 minutes round-trip.

At 1:00 and 3:00, there is an optional, free guided hike to Twin Falls with a Boat Company naturalist. This is a family-friendly 2-mile round-trip hike with no elevation gain, and you’ll get to see an amazing waterfall. The total time required for the boat ride and hike is three hours.

Tour TimeTime RequiredOptional Guided Hike?Price
8:00, 9:00, 10:00, 11:00, 5:0045 minutesNo$16.50 adult $8.25 child
1:00, 3:003 hoursYes$16.50 adult $8.25 child
Two Medicine tour options. Prices are approximate and subject to change

If you are interested in hiking but would like to cut down on the number of miles required, you can use the boat ride to shorten your hike. This will save you about 5 miles! When you leave the boat initially, your boat captain will hand you a return-trip ticket that you can use to come back later in the day.

To book a tour, call (406) 257-2426 or visit reserve.glacierparkboats.com. It is best to do this in advance, but not required as this is one of the least busy of all the boat tour locations.

Many Glacier Boat Tour (East side of the park)

The boat tour in Many Glacier is unique because it takes you across two different lakes on two different boats. This two-boat, two-lake tour gives you views of the most spectacular valley in the park (in my opinion) with only a short (but steep), ¼ mile hike necessary between the two lakes.

Many Glacier is my FAVORITE boat tour option! The wildlife viewing opportunities are unparalleled, as the tours often see bears and moose from the boat.

The Many Glacier boat tours depart at 8:30am*, 9:00am, 11:00am, 1:00pm*, 2:00pm, 3:00pm*, and 4:30pm. The total tour time required is 1.5 hours. Tours marked with an *asterisk* do not begin operating until July 1st.

At 9am and 2pm, there is an optional, free guided hike to Grinnell Lake with a Boat Company naturalist. The hike is 2 miles round trip and is very flat, making it manageable for just about everyone. The total boat tour and hike time is approximately four hours.

Tour TimeTime RequiredOptional Guided Hike?Price
11:00, 1:00, 3:00, 4:301.5 hoursNo$33.50 adult $16.75 child
9:00, 2:004 hoursYes$33.50 adult $16.75 child
8:3045 minutesMaybe$33.50 adult $16.75 child
Many Glacier tour options. Prices are approximate and subject to change

Just like in Two Medicine, if you are interested in hiking but would like to cut down on the number of miles required, you can use the boat ride to shorten your hike. This will save you about 5 miles! When you leave the boat initially, your boat captain will hand you a return-trip ticket that you can use to come back later in the day.

To book a tour, call (406) 257-2426 or visit reserve.glacierparkboats.com. This is the most popular boat tour location, so I highly recommend booking your tour well in advance, especially if you are traveling in a large group!

Other boating options

If you would like to get out on the water but are not interested in a boat tour, Glacier Park Boat Company also offers small watercraft rentals at many of their locations! All rentals are approximately $20/hour, though the price varies slightly by the type of watercraft.

  • Lake McDonald: Paddleboards and Motorboats
  • Two Medicine: Single Kayaks, Double Kayaks, Motorboats, Rowboats, Canoes
  • Many Glacier: Single Kayaks, Double Kayaks, Rowboats, Canoes
  • Apgar: Motorboats, Single Kayaks, Double Kayaks, Canoes, Rowboats, Paddleboards

As of the 2021 season, small boat rentals were not reservable and were offered on a first-come, first-served basis. There has been some discussion about a change in this procedure for the 2022 season, so keep that in mind when you visit.

Frequently Asked Questions

What should I wear for a boat tour?

The most important thing to remember on the boats and anywhere in Glacier is that weather in the mountains can change quickly. Always be sure to pack warm layers and rain protection, because you never know when you will need it! Be sure to wear sturdy shoes if you plan to hike from your boat ride.

What should I bring with me on the boat?

I recommend bringing water, snacks, a camera (or your phone), and enough clothing to be comfortable in the breezy mountain air. If you plan to hike, it is ESSENTIAL to bring enough food and water, and bear spray is always recommended.

How far in advance should I reserve tickets for my tour?

As soon as possible! Boat tours can sell out months in advance, so reserve your trip as soon as you decide it is something you want to do. Walk-up tickets are occasionally available but never guaranteed.

How early should I arrive?

Plan to arrive at least 45 minutes- 1 hour before your tour. This gives you time to find parking, use the restroom, locate the boat dock, and pick up your tickets. Boarding begins 15 minutes prior to the listed departure time, and your tickets will be forfeited and sold to someone else if you are not on board 10 minutes prior to departure.

Do I need to worry about motion sickness?

No! The boats are very stable even in choppy conditions.

Are tours ever canceled because of the weather?

It is possible but extremely rare. The boats are sturdy, and the captains are prepared for anything! I worked as a captain in Many Glacier for nine summers and I never saw a tour canceled for weather.

Do I need bear spray on the boat?

No! If you are just planning to take the boat ride there is absolutely no reason you should bring bear spray with you. However, if you are planning to hike from the boat it is always a good idea to hike with bear spray.

This seems like a lot of information: Can you help me make a plan for this?

Certainly! I created a step-by-step itinerary that incorporates the BEST boat tours and fits them into your schedule.

Glacier National Park is BIG and CROWDED. It’s overwhelming to plan a trip to Glacier, especially if you haven’t been there.

Luckily, I’ve worked there for years and I know the secrets and the best ways to structure your days to get the most out of your vacation.

Your vacation can be frustrating and full of missed opportunities, or you can have a GREAT TRIP!

Go West, young traveler!